80s horror movies

Child’s Play

Childs-play-movie-poster1In The Horror of It All: One Moviegoer’s Love Affair with Masked Maniacs, Frightened Virgins, and the Living Dead, author Adam Rockoff asked, “Why is Halloween loved but Friday the 13th despised?” One word. Blood.

Critics love restraint and Child’s Play is mostly bloodless too. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t bloodcurdling. Roger Ebert, whose antipathy to horror was infamous, said the film was “cheerfully energetic,” undoubtedly due to it holding back.

But for true fans, it’s neither here nor there if horror’s got gore. That’s at odds with public perception. We’re open to getting frights where we find them, even if it’s Toys ‘R’ Us. And unlike critics, we don’t punish films for gore. (The word “punish is forever ruined by Silent Night, Deadly Night.)

In Child’s Play, like A Nightmare on Elm Street, the series’ quality is inversely related to the number of lines spouted by its antagonist. For most of the first installment, the Chucky doll’s utterances are of the Ned Flanders variety, a “hi-da-lee-ho,” paired with an innocent rhyme, “I’m your friend to the end.” And when the doll becomes animate, it’s actually the silence that drive the horror, not the one-liners.

The spirit of a serial killer, Charles Lee Ray (an amalgam of Charles Manson, Lee Harvey Oswald and James Earl Ray) enters into a Good Guys doll, which is then purchased in a back alley by a penny-pinching Chicago mom for her son Andy.

One night mom has to work late and Maggie, a babysitter co-worker, is a last minute sub to put Andy (and his new friend) to bed. Director Tom Holland makes great use of the hulking 19th century Brewster apartment complex in Chicago’s north side, and the creepy, creaky building becomes a character until itself, almost like the sprawling Brooklyn mansion in The Sentinel. It’s in the apartment’s living room where Chucky comes to life, after making excuses via Andy to stay up late “to watch the 9 O’Clock news.” Dutiful Maggie balks, and for her troubles she’s pummeled with a hammer between the eyes, causing her to fall to her death from the kitchen window.

childs_play_movieChicago’s Finest is soon on the scene, including the former Mr. Susan Sarandon, Chris (speaking of The Sentinel).

The cops notice tiny footprints leading up to the crime scene, and eventually, they realize there’s a killer in their midst, the likes of which unseen in The Windy City since perhaps Henry in Portrait of a Serial Killer.

The animate doll, unwilling to be trapped in a plastic body for eternity, tracks down a Voodoo practitioner to “be a real boy,” to quote Pinocchio, and leads sweet Andy out on a CTA train to a seedy neighborhood (probably the kind President Obama once tried to “community organize).

Chicago PD finally comes around after dismissing mom’s tale of a doll minus its batteries that’s wreaking havoc.

The film holds up exceedingly well. A mere blink from the psycho ginger doll causes shivers. Creepy dolls may be overused in supernatural horrors, but killer dolls are a different matter entirely.

And here’s some advice: as collectors know, these toys retain their value when kept in their packaging.

***3/4 (out of 5)


Don’t Go in the Woods

dontgointhewoodsposterDon’t Go in the Woods introduces itself via a Teddy Bears’ Picnic musical retread, but instead, we get a lyrical switcheroo to “don’t go out in the woods tonight, you probably will be killed…”

It’s a great start, a jaunty, chilling tune…and DGITW is a slasher clad in natural horror furs. When campers start getting picked off one by one, a search party/posse heads out to find out what’s wrong, just as they would if a bear were roaming too close to their campsites. The involvement of law enforcement early on is what separates Don’t Go in the Woods from most slashers, where cops usually only show up with 5 minutes to spare in order to throw a comfy blanket around the Final Girl and rope the scene off with yellow police tape.

Guess you could say Don’t Go in the Woods is a different kind of beast altogether, even more low budget than the kind of 80s slasher film that became so interchangeable between 1981 and 1985.

The film got caught up in the Video Nasties panic in the 80s, but truth by told, it is nowhere near as depraved and sleazy as Don’t Answer the Phone or The Hills Have Eyes, and that’s probably because of the incredibly fake Herschell Gordon Lewis-colored blood, definitely ballpark hot dog-ready.

The plot? It couldn’t be more simple: Four backpackers are traipsing about the backwoods of Utah. When they shouldn’t be.

It’s a gorgeous backdrop, the soundtrack is ominous…but this thing is one hot mess. Don’t Go in the Woods is…to put it kindly…episodic. Or to put it less so, incoherent.

A cub-scout leader-type offers his 3 key survival tips for being out in the bush, each lukewarmly received by his mates. Tip #3? Don’t Go in the Woods…alone (the film’s other title, FYI).

dontgointhewoods_killerAll the while, other campers, in whom we have no investment, are butchered in rather unconvincing fashion by this fellow (left), a backwoods loon with no backstory.

What we’re left with is a kind of video nasty version of Big Foot meets Friday the 13th…but apart from a few stabbings…it’s fairly tepid stuff (and no nudity either).

But one can’t help but admire the independent spirit that went into this, a connective tissue that puts it in the company of some of the uber-low budget horrors sent our way.

By their own admission, none of the cast claimed to be actors. And you won’t know any of director James Bryan’s other 19 films, save for The Executioner Part II.

Not even a must-see for horror completists.

*1/2 (out of 5)